Off Road Lights Compared

Off Road Lights Compared

Off road lights are on virtually every FJ owners wish list. Some form of additional lighting is vital if you plan to hit the trails after dark. There are literally dozens of different light combinations available for our trucks, how do you know which one is best? Ultimately the light setup that’s right for you depends upon how you intend to use them and your environment. FJ’s in the northeast will no doubt have a very different setup than those that spend most of their time in the desert. Combinations of large driving lights, amber lights for greater visibility in dusty areas, and smaller fog lights that are closer to the ground all have their place.

We gathered several FJ’s for a night run and light comparison late in December in an attempt to capture how some of the different setups perform. We were not able to test some of the popular brands of off road lights such as IPF and KC, but we did have enough combinations to illustrate some of the options available.

These are our test test trucks:

Brian’s Sun Fusion:
Roof: 2x Hella 500 (55w)
Bumper: 2x Hella 500 (55w)
Total Wattage: 220w

Athena & Bill’s Black Cherry
Roof: 4X 85w PIAA Fog (520)
Bumper: 2x Hella 90mm (55w)
Total Wattage: 450w

Stan’s Sun Fusion
Roof: 4x 85w PIAA Driving (520)
Bumper: 4x 55w PIAA Driving (510)
Total Wattage: 560w

Roof: 4x Lightforce 170 Striker (2 Spot & 2 Combo filters)
Bumper: None
Total Wattage: 400w

Tony & Jackies VooDoo & Alan’s Ti
OEM Headlights only, no aftermarket lights
These trucks were our ‘controls’

Stock Headlights
Obviously, the trucks without aftermarket off road lights showed the dimmest results. This was to be expected, but it was great to have them on the run to really illustrate how little light the stock headlights put out when on the trail. We recommend at least upgrading the stock bulbs to high power halogens, or even converting them to HID’s to get maximum visibility on night runs.

Toyota Off Road Lights
The OEM Toyota Air Dam & Off Road Light kit uses 2x 55w Hella 500 lights. Brian also installed 2 Hella 500’s on his bumper for additional on/off road lighting. This setup is the easiest to install (or have installed) since it uses existing wiring harnesses. All FJ’s are pre-wired to accept 2 55w lights on the roof & 2 55w lights on the bumper. The beam pattern on the Hella 500 is a standard ‘spot’, which can really be seen in our test photos. They throw out a good amount of light, but since the beam is so focused, the area covered is smaller than the other lights we tested. Only two lights on the roof also contributes to the smaller coverage area.
Manufacturer: Toyota / Hella
Cost: About $160 for 2 lights, About $600 for the entire Air Dam / Roof Light Kit.

Before we move on to the other aftermarket lights, it should be noted that you should not use the OEM wiring harness to run more than 110 watts. This means that if you’re installing four 85w – 100w lights on the roof, the Toyota harness is not designed to handle that much power and could be very dangerous. Please use good judgment and caution when installing off road lights. If you’re not 100% comfortable with the install, seek professional assistance.

PIAA Fog Lights:
We noticed in our test that the PIAA fog lights throw a very distinct yellow light. While this setup doesn’t show well in our photos, it’s actually a really great way to go for open, dusty, ‘baja’ style conditions. The yellow light does not reflect off dust as much (and even snow), so these lights will also be much more useful in low visibility conditions. The 520 fogs throw a fairly wide beam for maximum visibility. They do not project light far down the trail, but the wide flood light does a great job of illuminating the sides of the trail. PIAA 520 lights are available in either driving or fog beam patterns.
Manufacturer: PIAA Lights
Cost: About $500 for 4 lights (2 kits) including switch, wiring & harnesses.

PIAA Driving Lights:
There is no doubt that Stan’s light setup is the most powerful we tested. With a total of 560w, this system lights up the entire trail. The four 520’s on the roof throw a long driving beam, and the four 510’s on the bumper throw a wider driving light beam so the illuminated area is fairly wide and projects very well down the trail. In addition, Stan upgraded his headlights to PIAA halogens to give his stock lights an extra boost. This system works really well for mountainous and treed trails. One thing to keep in mind is that running this much power will certainly require more juice from your FJ’s electrical system. Stan’s truck has a dual battery setup so that he can use all his lights without the worry of running out of power. PIAA 510 & 520 lights are available in either driving or fog beam patterns.
Manufacturer: PIAA Lights
Cost: About $500 for 4 roof lights (520), about $400 for 4 bumper lights (510)

LightForce 170 Striker Lights:

When we were looking into which type of lights to install, our Overlanding Expert Lance suggested we talk to LightForce. After a quick call to Chris Corbett at LightForce USA and a little internet research, we decided four 170’s on the WAAG XS Rack would be the best way to go for us. Our intention is to have a versatile lighting setup that will work as good in the desert as it does in the mountains. We wanted a setup that could give maximum performance in low visibility and tight mountain roads, so the versatile LightForce system was perfect.

The feature that sets LightForce apart from all others is the interchangeable filters available for all of their lights. They feature three different beam patterns in several colors. The 170 Striker lights ship with a standard spot filter, which throws high intensity light far down the trail. The optional flood filter does exactly that, it disperses the light for maximum side to side illumination. The most popular LightForce filter is their ‘combo’ that throws a beam fairly far down the trail, but disperses quite a bit of light to the sides as well. All of these filters are available in clear, amber, yellow, and even some specialty colors. The combinations available from LightForce really mean that you can get the exact combination you need, and even change it depending upon where you are and the current conditions.

During our test, the LightForce setup we’re using worked very well. We used two standard spot filters for the center two lights, and two combo filters for the outside. The two center lights are pointed down slightly to illuminate the road directly in front of us, and the outside lights are angled out just a little to get maximum illumination on the side of the trail. This setup does a very good job of lighting up the trail and is nearly as bright as 8 PIAA lights.
Manufacturer: LightForce Performance Lighting
Cost: About $500 for 4 roof lights (2 kits) + LightForce wiring harness

Other Options
We certainly did not cover all the different off road light options, but hopefully we’ve provided enough information to get you going in the right direction. There are other products from each of these manufacturers that may meet your needs better, and there are plenty of other brands and styles of lights available. We want to mention that HID light kits will certainly throw more light than the systems we tested, but most HID kits are at least double the price of traditional halogen systems and are beyond the scope of this article. We encourage you to research the best system for your specific needs and environment. If you plan on running trails at night, we do suggest that you augment your stock headlights in some way.